Hughes keeps lid on European aspirations

A moment of truth, this weekend, for those top four aspirations of Manchester City's. Mark Hughes is rowing back as furiously as he can on the initial proclamations by those who fronted their Arab take-over that City can make a Champions League place, but Liverpool's arrival at Eastlands presents the opposition they will probably need to topple to secure one.

Stephen Ireland suggested this week that City could make the top four – "Getting a bit carried away isn't he? I know he's playing well," Hughes joked – though last week's defeat at Wigan put the size of the task into focus and it is the City manager's view that the team are not playing as a top four side yet. "We haven't got the consistency of performance that we need to be viewed as a top four team," Hughes said.

Hughes' determination to keep a lid on expectations at City, despite the form of Shaun Wright-Phillips and the re-emergence of Elano, led him to suggest that even a win over Rafael Benitez's side would present its problems. "[A win] would help us but maybe then expectations would run away with themselves again," he said. "Our aspiration is to be better than we are at the moment." Hughes hopes to have Richard Dunne back after the hamstring trouble which saw him miss Uefa Cup duty on Thursday.

Benitez, who should have Javier Mascherano back after he was rested in Europe, acknowledged the pressure money was creating for Hughes. "Any questions about whether the money makes it more difficult for them is one for Mark Hughes to answer. They were a good team beforehand, they are a good team now and they will be better in the future. We just have to think about beating the side they have at the moment."

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